So here it is, the final instalment in our series of articles commemorating the best bikes, accessories and clothing we’ve tested in the past year. Today we pick 15 of the best cycling products reviewed in 2015. We’re talking here about common upgrades such as wheels, tyres, handlebars and pedals.
We’ve linked through to retailers in the heading, plus you can read the full in-depth review for each product as well, just follow the link below the description. Why are these products here? They represent the best-reviewed products testing during 2015, and they're all available in the shops now.
We’ve tested a lot of very high-quality products this past year. This article aims to provide a list of interesting components in different categories and price points, with an eye on value for money, as well as performance for the intended purpose. Something for everyone, we hope.
There have been some notable trends this year. Rims and tyres are getting wider. Tubeless technology is maturing, slowly becoming more popular with cyclists. Power meters are getting more affordable. And there are more disc brakes as well, and there'll be even more this year for us to review.
In the tidal wave of new disc bike drop bar bikes appearing on the market, the Spyre has become the benchmark for ease of setup, use and reliability. They’re much less expensive than hydraulic brakes but the performance is excellent, among the best mechanical disc brakes currently available. There is a clear bite point and plenty of modulation for when you are looking to just scrub a bit of speed, regardless of being on or off-road. Really good performance for the money and cheaper than a full hydraulic system.Spyre has become the benchmark for ease of setup, use and reliability. They’re much less expensive than hydraulic brakes but the performance is excellent, among the best mechanical disc brakes currently available. There is a clear bite point and plenty of modulation for when you are looking to just scrub a bit of speed, regardless of being on or off-road. Really good performance for the money and cheaper than a full hydraulic system.
Tyres are getting bigger, and the Continental Grand Prix 4000S II 28mm is a great example of why this is A Good Thing. At 266g per end (claimed 260g) it's heavier than the 25mm (claimed 225g) and 23mm (claimed 215g) but the plus side is that the air chamber is much bigger than the smaller tyres, and you can run it at a lower pressure. Out on the road, they feel extremely smooth and fast. Continental's Vectran breaker does a pretty good job of resisting any unwelcome intrusions.
Pro-Lite Bortola A21 wheelset £349.99
The Bortolas keep the light weight and stiffness of the well-received Bracciano but add tubeless capability and wider rims. The 1540g weight is impressive for an aluminium wheelset even if that is about 65g over the claimed weight. The Bartolas pick up speed quickly thanks to a svelte rim and make climbing a joy especially giving a little out of the saddle dig on a steep section. Overall the Bortolas are perfect all rounder wheels.
SRAM's Rival 1 groupset offers shifting simplicity, a usable range of gears, powerful disc brakes and secure chain retention. It has no direct rival from Shimano or Campagnolo, although home-brewed single-ring drivetrains have been popular in some areas of cycling for a few years now, but SRAM brings plenty of technology to the table that makes it easy to ditch the front mech and go 1x11. It's not for everyone, but there are many cyclists and applications that this new groupset would be ideal for.
The Bontrager Race Lite Aero Handlebars are one of the cheapest aero road bars that money can buy. In terms of shape, the bars have a flattened top and a clamping area wider than many other aero bars on the market. We particularly like this as it allows for either clip on TT bars or out front computer mounts and even a front light. Changing your stock handlebar is a really simple upgrade so if you want more comfort, a different fit or more aerodynamics, this bar is worth a look.
3T's Arx II Pro stem is an evolution of its Arx Pro stem. It uses a standard alloy shaft and a similar faceplate to the previous design, with the cutout 3T logo, but the shape has been refined a bit and the look is a little more sculpted. Given that you can pick up this stem up for about £30 online and you're only adding about 40g over even the very lightest stems that cost many times as much, it seems like a sensible place to spend your money. Even at full retail, it would be a decent buy.
PoGarmin's Vector 2 is the second incarnation of its pedal-based power measurement system. The changes to the system are fairly minor, but they are improvements, making the pedals easier to set up and switch between bikes. Yes, they’re expensive but you get a tonne of data and they’re really easy to install to your bike.
The Line is Fabric's newest saddle, the first from the Somerset-based company with a pressure-relieving channel design, and it's every bit as comfortable as the Fabric Scoop on which this one is based. The padding is firm but provides enough cushioning: I found it more than adequate on a five-hour weekend ride. There's a bit of flex in the nylon base and the chromoly rails, which helps to dissipate some of the shocks caused when riding over rough surfaces.
Tubeless tyres are slowing gaining traction in the cycling world, and German company Schwalbe has been rapidly developing a line of high-performance tyres that allow you to enjoy the benefits of ditching the inner tube (fewer punctures, less weight and lower pressures). The S-One is the newest, a 30mm tyre with a dimpled tread pattern, and its performance blew us away. They melt around the smallest of road protrusions, giving not only the aforementioned proverbial-to-a-blanket braking performance but also supreme comfort. Dial in your pressure and road buzz all but vanishes. That's not to say that you can't feel what's going on down there, you just get the message without being jackhammered.
Stan's NoTubes ZTR Grail Team wheelset is one of a new generation of disc brake-specific offerings with a wide (in this case 21mm internal width) rim, ensuring that it appeals to the growing number of disc brake-equipped road/gravel/adventure bikes designed for wider tyres than is the norm on race bikes.When tubeless is this easy, you really won't go back to inner tubes, with the wheels supplied with rim tape and tubeless valves. The wheels are bombproof and they’re a decent weight and price.
Zipp doesn’t just makes wheels, it also produces tyres. It updated its offerings in 2015 and the Tangente Speed, a race-day tyres with 25mm version weighing just 196g, providing a very responsive and fast rolling performance, ideal for racing and Sunday best bikes.
The best upgrade you can make to your bike is a new set of wheels, and there aren’t many wheels do inject as much performance as Lightweight’s Meilenstein tubular wheels. They are also incredibly expensive, but they’re also impressively light, just 1,120g for the pair. As you’d imagine, the performance is exceptional out on the road. So, incredibly light and stiff carbon wheels with an exceptional performance, but the price makes them unattainable for nearly all.
Supertype is Miche's top range of kit sitting at the Campagnolo Record, Shimano Dura-Ace sort of pricing level with weight and performance to match. The cranks are carbon fibre using a hollow construction, therefore, providing the stiffness while keeping the weight down to 673g. Shifting is very precise thanks to the usual collection of ramps and shifting pins. The matching Supertype Evo Max bottom bracket is also a nice bit of kit with smooth running bearings and easy fitting. It’s a welcome alternative to the top three brands with performance to back up the price.
Radial Cycles' Grippy bar tape gives you pretty much everything you might expect from a £20 bar tape for a tenner. It's great. Standard cork tape will cost you eight quid and this stuff is miles better for hardly anymore.
Wheels are one of the most common upgrades to a stock bike, and at the sub-£500 mark, there are a lot of good wheels to choose from. Now there's one more: the Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheelset, an excellent choice. These wheels are light, stiff and well made. Tipping the road.cc scales at 1,480g – exactly what the Hunt website claims they should be – the Race Season Aero Wide is a wheelset that's designed to be a good all-rounder for training and racing.
In case you missed them...
Here is the Best Cycling Accessories of the Year 2015/16 and the Best Cycle Clothing of the Year 2015/16, essential reading if you're in the market to buy some new parts and accessories for your road bike this year.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.